Flypaper

Opting out of testing is like opting out of our personal and collective responsibility as parents. As a mother, I want to know how my own kids are doing but, arguably more importantly, we all need to know how all kids are doing. We would not even be aware of the seismic gaps between white students and students of color if not for the data that kids like mine provide. Opting out makes it too convenient for all of us to deny hard truths, and to do that would be to betray millions of students and families.

I recently read a piece in Education Week by Starr Sackstein in which she explains why she opts her son out of state testing and why she, as a mother and a teacher, believes that all other parents should do the same (and would do the same if we only knew our rights.) She writes:

I was never allowed to tell my students to opt-out, even though I knew it was in their best interest. Too many parents in the city are unaware of their rights and so they force their kids to take the exams despite it working against...

 
 
Scott Pearson

We have faced nearly a year's worth of bad news about District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), from high teacher turnover, to faked suspension data, inflated graduation rates, the resignation of its chancellor, and residency fraud. This steady drumbeat has undermined confidence in the city’s traditional public schools—far more than is warranted in my opinion. DCPS is a vastly better school system than it was in 2007, when Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson took the reins.

But this essay is about the other half of public schools in DC, the 120 public charter schools educating 43,340 students—nearly half (47.5 percent) of the city’s public school students. I am the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, and the story of our sector in the nation’s capital is mostly one of continued success, growth, popularity, and quality improvement. This is worth writing about because the bad news about DCPS may be drowning out what continues to be a remarkable story of the success of public charter schools.

First, none of these news stories has been about public charter schools. Our graduation rates check out—because for years the DC Public...

 
 

This is the fifth and final article in a series that looks at a recent AEI paper by Colin Hitt, Michael Q. McShane, and Patrick J. Wolf, “Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research.” Read the previous articles, “How to think about short-term test score changes and long-term student outcomes,” “When looking only at school choice programs, both short-term test scores and long-term outcomes are overwhelmingly positive,” “For the vast majority of school choice studies, short- and long-term impacts point in the same direction,” and “Findings about school choice programs shouldn’t be applied to individual schools.”

All week I’ve been digging into a recent AEI paper that reviews the research literature on short-term test-score impacts and long-term student outcomes for school choice programs. Here I’ll summarize the paper and what I believe is wrong with it, and conclude by calling on all parties in this debate to discuss the existing evidence in much more cautious tones.

What the AEI authors did

Hitt, McShane, and Wolf set out to review all of the rigorous studies of school choice programs that have impact estimates for both student achievement attainment—high...

 
 

This is the fourth article in a series that looks at a recent AEI paper by Colin Hitt, Michael Q. McShane, and Patrick J. Wolf, “Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research.” The first three essays are respectively titled “How to think about short-term test score changes and long-term student outcomes,” “When looking only at school choice programs, both short-term test scores and long-term outcomes are overwhelmingly positive,” and “For the vast majority of school choice studies, short- and long-term impacts point in the same direction.”

Over the past few days, I’ve shown that the overwhelming majority of studies looking at bona fide school choice programs find positive effects on both short-term test scores and long-term student outcomes, especially college-going and college graduation. It is simply incorrect to claim, as the AEI authors did, that “a school choice program’s impact on test scores is a weak predictor of its impacts on longer-term outcomes.”

Still, there are a handful of examples of school choice programs that diminished achievement but improved high school graduation rates, including the Milwaukee voucher program and a set of Texas charter schools. I agree with...

 
 

This year will feature a whopping thirty-six governors’ races, half of which are wide open, with incumbents who are term-limited or not running for re-election. Victors will have the opportunity to improve policies in many areas. But they’ve sadly said little about their ideas for education, according to an analysis by Rick Hess and Sofia Gallo of the American Enterprise Institute. “The accountability, standards, and teacher evaluation reforms at the heart of the Bush-Obama agenda have almost no outspoken champions among the nation’s would-be governors,” they concluded. Mentions of school choice and charter schools are surprisingly scarce as well.

It could be that the candidates are reading polls showing the fading popularity of these reforms. But I suspect the reason is deeper than that. Candidates for high office generally want to talk about new ideas. And there aren’t many in education right now. Myriad education policy debates, such as those over teacher evaluations, have run their course; others, such as charter schools, have descended into trench warfare.

To rectify the situation, here’s a hat trick of fresh ideas that could help receptive candidates not only get elected, but also significantly improve their states’ schools.

1. Create thousands of...

 
 

Way back when you were young (i.e., 2003), the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation published a hard-hitting report titled Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? It lamented the manifest failures of social-studies education, identified a number of culprits, and recommended a series of fundamental rethinks and reforms.

Among the shortcomings that we cited was “hostility on the part of many educators at all levels to the kinds of basic knowledge ordinary Americans think important for their children to learn.” Another was the displacement of discipline-based education in history, geography, politics, and science with something far more amorphous, touchy-feely, and non-substantive known as “social studies.” Recounting its emergence in our pages, Diane Ravitch wrote:

Educational theorists complained that teaching about heroes and history stories was nothing more than “daydreaming.” They wanted the schools to deal “realistically” with the problems of the world. They encouraged the schools to socialize their students by centering their activities on home, family, neighborhood, and community. They said that the schools should teach the present, not the past. One state after another began to eliminate history from the elementary grades and to replace it with expanding environments (home, neighborhood, community). The very idea that students would...

 
 

As the Trump Administration inches closer to a decision about what to do with a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, defenders of the Obama-era policy have ratcheted up the rhetoric. Because the document “simply gave further information about how [the law] relates to school discipline,” and just “encourages schools to reflect on whether its discipline practices are affected by racial bias,” rescinding it would “signal that discrimination is OK.”

Statements like these make me think that some proponents of the letter still don’t understand what’s in it, or why many of us (mostly but not entirely on the right) think it’s so bad for our schools. So in the spirit of public service, let me take a stab at delineating between the document’s innocuous, even helpful, parts, and the portions that need to be deleted.

If readers follow this link, they will find a version of the original letter with my edits in redline. I added one word and deleted 799, this out of a document that is more than 12,000 words long, including its appendix and footnotes. In other words, I believe that 94 percent of the...

 
 

Since its release, the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recent report on discipline disparities has generated substantial heat, but no new light. Based on an analysis of the most recent discipline data collected by the Office of Civil Rights, it concludes that “Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined…in K–12 public schools.” But if that sentence contains any new information, it is well hidden. And as the report acknowledges, by themselves these disparities “do not establish whether unlawful discrimination has occurred.”

Using a generalized linear regression model—basically a more flexible version of ordinary linear regression—the authors of the report investigate the relationships between various school-level characteristics and discipline outcomes. However, as they acknowledge, their methodology has at least two important limitations.

First, because they don’t have student-level data, the authors can’t actually control for poverty and other factors at the student level. Thus, although the study finds that schools with more black students have higher suspensions rates—even after controlling for the number of poor kids—it doesn’t show that poor black students are more likely to be suspended than poor white students.

Second, as the authors once again acknowledge, “some variables that may be related to student behavior...

 
 

Although there is much research about “achievement gaps” between wealthy and poor students and the effects of “toxic stress” on academic outcomes, a recent study sought to examine the depth at which such issues as homelessness, domestic violence, neglect, and abuse can affect students in school, as well as the prevalence of the problem across schools and demographic groups.

Brian Jacob and Joseph Ryan conducted the study for the Brookings Institution. Matching school records collected from the Michigan Department of Education to child maltreatment information collected by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, the researchers focused on students in the third grade (Michigan administers a statewide test to all in children in this grade), as young children have higher rates of exposure to maltreatment and it has more harmful effects on younger children. The authors examined cases of both substantiated and unsubstantiated Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations, relying on the assumption that the existence of any complaint might point to some trauma, even in the unsubstantiated cases, where there was not enough evidence for a formal investigation to continue. They repeated their analysis using only substantiated CPS investigations, and came to the same pattern of results. Controlling for...

 
 
Timothy Daly

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared in a slightly different form on The 74.

Why don’t more low-income and minority students succeed in school? There is plenty of talk about bad schools, insufficient resources, turbulent neighborhoods, and the like. And, yes, lots of disadvantaged students start school behind their more advantaged peers—and, because of these myriad challenges, stay behind. But there are many others who demonstrate success in school, at least for stretches of their educational careers, but fall off along the way. Instead of resigning ourselves to these outcomes, we must instead ask: Why, specifically, does this happen? And how do we fix it?

At EdNavigator, of which I am a founding partner, we have spent the past two years providing sustained educational support to hundreds of families in and around New Orleans, in all types of schools. Each of them has been afforded access to a Navigator—someone with deep roots in their community and professional experience in teaching, counseling, or school leadership—who serves as their personal education adviser. Through this work, we have gained deep insight into the day-to-day interactions of families and schools and the obstacles they confront. Our experience has brought the questions above...

 
 

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